Pineapple leaves now precious as gold in Camarines Norte villages

December 5, 2010 7:14 am 

By Danny O. Calleja

SAN VICENTE, Camarines Norte, Dec. 3 – Time was when this small impoverished town known for its Formosa queen pineapple would be littered with garbage that later turned out to be as precious as gold — pineapple leaves.

“We have been growing a lot of queen pineapple since time immemorial and our interest then was focused only on its fruits. After harvest, some of its leaves would be given to farm animals as feed and the rest, burned or left to rot,” according to Pilar Sanchez, leader of the Fabrica Pineapple Growers Association (FPGA) of Barangay Fabrica here.

Located 4.5 kilometers from the town proper, the village where over a thousand inhabitants settle boasts of about 30 hectares of queen pineapple plantations being tended to by the association of nearly a hundred members.

“Today, pineapple leaves are another major source of income for most of us here. These materials once considered refuse are now being used as source of expensive fiber serving as raw material for hand-loomed fabric particularly for making the exquisite Filipino costume Barong Tagalog,” Sanchez said on Friday.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Regional Executive Director Jose Dayao said that while fruits of Camarines Norte pineapple of the Formosa queen variety are sold not only in the domestic market but also exported abroad, its leaves provide an alternative source of livelihood for local handloom weavers.

They produce textile of fine-quality fiber called Formosa Manos, another pride of Bicolandia because this cloth embraces history, not only that it was painstakingly made because of the labor and the effort put into making this unique cloth, but they call this their very own, he said.

Formosa, meaning made from the Formosa queen pineapple — the sweetest in the country — and manos for hands, Dayao explained.

To make the cloth requires skill. It is handcrafted and its brand name literally means “beautiful hands,” he added.

Aside from this poor municipality, pineapple leaves today provide farmers and housewives in the other pineapple-producing towns of Labo, Talisay, Basud, Vinzons and San Lorenzo Ruiz, an alternative source of income.

About 150 families in Labo alone are directly engaged in fiber processing and handlooming spearheaded by the Labo Progressive Multipurpose Cooperative (LPMPC).

Having seen the potential of the project, the town has adopted handloom weaving as its OTOP (One Town, One Product), a project of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Back here, extraction of fiber from pineapple leaves has been made easier by the DA through a technology adoption project under the Strengthening of the Agro-Industrial Sector in Bicol and Caraga (SAIS-BC).

It was granted funds by the Agencia Española de Cooperacion International para el Desarollo (AECID) of the Spanish government.

Dayao said they saw the potential as a group to adopt new technology, utilize resources and add value to its existing economic activities that was why it was made a beneficiary of the project.

The components of the project included the establishment and provision of processing facilities, institutional development and capability building; marketing assistance and project management and monitoring.

Initially, the association obtained four units pineapple leaves decorticating machines with engines, a tarpaulin and a processing shed with a total project cost of P317,000 provided by AECID. The LGU of San Vicente provided P126,000 as counterpart while the association raised P55,000 starting capital.

Others agencies like the DTI also pitched in by providing the association with a weighing scale and lately, the SAIS-BC project provided the association with a motorcycle with hauler. The officers also attended various capability training conducted by the DA to further improve their management skills.

Aside from fiber, the group also ventured into processing of pineapple juice and vinegar from pineapple butterballs and rejected fruits. They also collect the fiber trimmings that are processed into handmade paper.

According to Sanchez, the project has become a job generator for its members and it works this way: Work begins with scouting of newly harvested pineapple plantations. The machine is brought to the site and the association assigns an operator from its members who is paid P9.00 per kilogram of wet fiber extracted.

The leaf-gatherers are paid P7.00 per kilo of wet fiber while the owner of the pineapple plantation gets P2.00 per kilo.

Usually, Sanches said a plantation owner generates an additional of P1,500 income out of this system from the leaves left after harvesting the fruit.

The decorticating machine operator on the other hand could earn from P400 to P600 per day. In some instances, the whole family is at work: The father operates the machine while his wife and children gather the leaves from the farm.

Other women in the community also get extra income from the cleaning, washing and drying of the fiber. One of them, Vilma Gonzales said she earns P2.00 per kilo or a minimum of P300 per day from it.

Drying takes two days under sunny days and in Fabrica and most of the other barangays here, almost all households have their clotheslines occupied by neatly hanged pineapple fibers. At nighttime before retiring to bed, housewives patiently comb the fibers and trim unwanted lines.

They get P10 per kilo for this job and after ensuring that the fibers are free of tangles, it is now ready for market.

The advent of technology with the decorticating machines, Sanches said made villagers of Fabrica and other neighboring communities enjoy the speed, ease and efficiency of fiber extraction. Many families could easily earn at least P1,000 a week from it.

Aside from the technology, the project has also environmental impact. It has made a considerable reduction in agricultural waste with the pineapple leaves usually left to rot are now collected and turned to cash, Sanches said.

In marketing, she added, the association has forged contract with the LPMPC. The coop buys at P130 per kilo the dry and clean fiber. The FPGA sells an average of 200 kilos of fiber per week. (PNA)

LAP/LQ/DOC/cbd

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